We recently decided to set up a Reading Support program for our LLM students. This was in response to a recent conversation I had with a student I had taught in our summer course who is now full swing into our LLM coursework. Her comment echoed the challenges that a number of her classmates have voiced: It’s hard to keep up with and comprehend all the reading.
Over the last few years, a list of key vocabulary–with definitions–has been developed for the Transnational Legal Practice course that all of our LLM students in the TLP Program take. These are key words, terms, and phrases that all LLM students in the program need to become comfortable with, and it is a work in progress as my colleague Professor Katy Piper continues to add words to the list as appropriate each semester.
The list has over 50 items and includes basic legal terms such as “torts” and “judicial review” as well as specifically transnational legal practice terms such as “letter of credit” and “INCOTERMS”.
A great resource for my ALDA students preparing for the TLP Program! But what to do with it? Just tell them to go home and memorize and then have a test on it?
The other day in class, a student used the word “sin” in class. Given the culturally laden meanings and implications of “sin,” and given my constant emphasis on getting students to define terms in alternative ways, I asked the student to explain “sin” in his own words.
I was expecting something along the lines of “to do something bad” or “an action against what God wants.” But instead the student paused for the briefest moment and then casually offered: “Moral turpitude.”
Blank stares all around. Needless to say, there currently exists a fairly wide gap in the vocabulary levels of my students. And “differentiation” is looking like one of the themes for the semester.
An ad published by the Great Minneapolis Surplus Store
The Challenge: Helping international students to better read and comprehend law school texts.
Solution #1: Recognize that successful reading is highly dependent on background information.
Take the sentence: “A-Rod hit into a 6-4-3 double-play to end the game.” If a baseball fan reads that, they know exactly what it means as well as what it implies. They can even picture Rodriguez’s head hung low as fans boo the highly paid star of the most famous baseball team who has been tainted by steroids allegations. If you’re an American non-baseball fan, perhaps you can figure out it’s about the final play by a well-known baseball player. And if you come from another country and have no exposure to baseball, then all you likely know is that some sort of game ended.
For all three people, grammar is not the issue. And vocabulary is only part of the issue, as a dictionary would only provide limited assistance in comprehending this sentence. The greatest impediment to understanding is “domain knowledge,” also known as background information.